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LGBT Pride Month & Labor

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month (LGBT Pride Month) is currently celebrated each year in the month of June to honor the 1969 Stonewall riots in Manhattan. The Stonewall riots were a tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States. In the United States the last Sunday in June was initially celebrated as “Gay Pride Day,” but the actual day was flexible. In major cities across the nation the “day” soon grew to encompass a month-long series of events.

Today, celebrations include pride parades, picnics, parties, workshops, symposia and concerts, and LGBT Pride Month events attract millions of participants around the world. Memorials are held during this month for those members of the community who have been lost to hate crimes or HIV/AIDS. The purpose of the commemorative month is to recognize the impact that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals have had on history locally, nationally, and internationally.

Woven throughout the history of the LGBT civil rights movement, the support of organized labor has been the thread that ties it all together. For nearly a century, LGBT activists and the labor movement have built a worldwide relationship based on shared struggles, similar goals, and common values.

When it comes to fighting for the right to have a decent-paying job free from discrimination and undue hardship, American LGBT workers has no longer-term ally than organized labor.

Our common struggle with the labor movement goes back to at least the 1930s, when the National Union of Marine Cooks and Stewards elected Stephen Blair, an openly gay man, as its vice president. The union was derided as, "red, black, and queer" for its strong liberal views and embrace of minority rights. Blair’s life partner, Frank McCormick, was a vice president of the California Congress of Industrial Organizations and was instrumental during the West Coast longshoremen’s strike in 1934, which led to to the unionization of every port on the west coast.

Continuing into the ’40s, Harry Hay, a longshoreman from the Bay Area in California, founded the Mattachine Society in 1948. Hay used the knowledge and skills he gained as a union organizer to put the group on the map and drive its success. Incidentally, in the 1970s, Hay founded the Radical Faeries movement, which still exists today.

In the mid-1970s, Harvey Milk and the Teamsters banded together for the Coors beer boycotts and Harvey’s successful bid for San Francisco supervisor. At that point, labor and LGBT activists had already shared 40 years of history, but Harvey and the Teamsters took our shared struggle to the next level by creating a political movement that showed how our power multiplies if we band together and organize.

The Labor + LGBT powerhouse repeated this success when they worked together in 1978 to defeat the Briggs Initiative, which sought to bar gay people from teaching in California public schools. Shortly after, in 1979, the AFL-CIO, the nation's largest federation of labor unions, made its first call for a federal law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation.

For almost 40 years, union contracts have included discrimination protections for LGBT workers and today, because there is no federal nondiscrimination law on the books, a union contract is still the only legally enforceable protection available to LGBT people in most states. Labor remains one of the strongest voices pushing for a federal law to ban employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

In solidarity,

David Rice VP LL2339N


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